Kosovo’s future is as a full member of the European Union, Deputy Prime Minister Mimoza Kusari-Lila said during a visit to London, this week. “Kosovo sees no other future apart from EU integration,’ she told an audience of academics and diplomats at the London School of Economics.
After the latest progress report was delivered earlier this week, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule visited Priština to confirm to Kosovo that the path to Brussels is theirs for the taking. He told Prime Minister Hashim Thaci that there are no legal obstacles to prevent Kosovo joining the EU and, if they knuckle down to institutional reform, talks on the EU’s Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) could begin as early as the first half of next year.
“Kosovo is still firm and determined towards its EU integration path,’ said Mrs Kusari-Lila. “What is very important is that objectives on this are clear.
“They go from a whole range of sectors: building democratic institutions, establishing rule of law and improving trade. In the feasibility study, one of the outcomes was also the process of reform at the Ministry of Trade and Industry so we can facilitate negotiation of the SAA (Stabilisation and Association Agreement) that will start at the beginning of next year. The Free Trade Agreement is 70% of that negotiation as well.”
Kosovo Supports Serbia in Europe
Since declaring independence in 2008, Kosovo has had a troubled relationship with Serbia. That does not stop Mrs Kusari-Lila seeing a direct benefit of Serbia becoming a member of the European Union, both to the Balkan region and to Kosovo. So would she welcome Serbia becoming part of the EU? “Of course I would support Serbia becoming part of the EU,’ she said. “If Serbia becomes a member of the EU, then we can actually believe and see that Serbia will have fulfilled one of the basic criteria of the EU and that is good neighbourly relations.
As Serbia its own report on progress towards full membership of the EU, there also came direction from Brussels that Serbia should respect the territorial integrity of Kosovo. While European bosses have been quick to stress that no new conditions are being imposed on Belgrade, the message could not be clearer. “We are glad that, for the first time and on recommendations from the EU, the feasibility study told clearly that Serbia should respect the territorial integrity of Kosovo,’ said Mrs Kusari-Lila. “It is the first time that the EU speaks in one voice.”
For both parties to move forward in some sort of harmony, renewed dialogue is required, the Deputy Prime Minister said. “Kosovo sees no other solution to any open issues apart from dialogue. And Kosovo sees no other form of sustaining and strengthening its institutions than through open market economy, through building up its democratic institutions, and through the values by which all of the European countries have been formed and they firmly stand for. Fulfilling EU standards is most important for Kosovo people. More than anything else.”
Kosovo was Created by the Will of the People
While earlier issues with trade relations in the region have been largely stabilised, thanks in part to Kosovo being a member of CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Agreement), it is the will of the people that has brought the country this far so quickly, the deputy Prime Minister said.
“Kosovo is a country that has been established less than five years ago,’ she said. “Kosovo as a country declared its independence after a decade of a very severe regime of Slobodan Milosevic towards that region and specifically to Kosovo.
“Today, we can agree that Kosovo, as an independent country recognised by more than 90 countries around the world, has proven to be a success story. We can speak of the fact that the will of Kosovo’s people for independence has shown true to be the right path. With this, of course, we are grateful to the governments of the United Kingdom and countries in the developed world that supported Kosovo’s people towards this path.
Not Recognised by Five EU States
Despite the advances they have made, even now, there are member states of the EU that do not recognise Kosovo. “We have five non-recognising countries in the EU,’ said Mrs Kusari-Lila. “One of the main frustrations of Kosovo with the EU is how can countries like Cyprus or Romania have a harder and a louder voice in the EU than countries like Germany, France and the UK? Because oftentimes when there has been hesitation towards Kosovo’s integration to the EU, it was more stands of these countries that were taken upfront rather than these other countries that we believe value democracy and have the principles of EU integration.
“Oftentimes we have seen that the reaction of these non-recognising countries towards Kosovo is more a reflection of their own internal problems than the standards or the processes that were going on in Kosovo.
“To this we want to say that every country has its own internal issues but Kosovo is a unique case. The situation is Kosovo cannot be compared to the situation of minorities in other countries in the EU. This will remain an obstacle for Kosovo until we have all of the EU countries recognise [Kosovo], because there will always be something that someone will oppose in this process of our integration to the EU that will cause delays. After everything that we have been through, if we complete our part of the obligations and duties towards the EU – and we have certainly a lot of them – it shouldn’t be something political that should stop Kosovo from joining the EU.”
70% of Kosovo Population Under 30
Joining the European Union will not only open new opportunities for trade and industry in Kosovo, it will also provide benefits for a country where about 70% of the population is under 30 years of age.
“What is now the main frustration of young people in Kosovo is lack of visa liberalisation,’ said Mrs Kusari-Lila, who is also Minister for Trade and Industry. “Kosovo is the only country in the Balkans that is not part of the visa liberalisation regime. Kosovars can travel to only five other countries without visa.
“Considering the young age of the population, considering their dedication and, of course, their pro-Western approach and a desire to learn and see new things, and the fact that they live in ten thousand square kilometers, it makes it more annoying for people to know that they cannot travel to any other developed country, except for Turkey and countries in the region, without a visa.
“The fact that Kosovo is the last one has certainly caused a lot of frustration and, even though the EU as a whole is one of the main donors in Kosovo since the end of the war and has a lot of support for Kosovo institutions, it still has been looked at with scepticism. Why? Because the EU cannot be just present problems of refugees or people who leave Kosovo and never come back. They should look at how many Kosovar refugees returned at the end of the war. That is a prime example of how Kosovars are dedicated to going back and working.
Yes, We Have Problems. Who Doesn’t?
“Having students at LSE and in other world universities come back to Kosovo with a degree to contribute is one of the most pure and confirming facts of the love of Kosovars for their country. Because we never had one but now, after so many years of struggle and fighting, we actually want to learn from the best and we have to learn from these countries.”
The Deputy Prime Minister is pragmatic about the situation for her country but clear on what path it needs to take. She said: “Yes, we have problems. Yes, we have issues. But who doesn’t? Who doesn’t have problems and issues? But we have identified them and we are working on them. As long as you tackle those, as long as you are working on those, they will be resolved. There will be other issues coming up but, as time passes and Kosovo strengthens, and as it normalises the western Balkans with all other countries, we believe the future is nothing but bright.”